At the beginning of Love Radio, author Ebony LaDelle includes a letter to readers that explains her inspiration for writing her first novel. She talks about how she’d always been the relationship expert amongst her friends, about her lifelong dream of becoming a writer, and her love for her hometown of Detroit. LaDelle uses these elements from her own life to write a great love story between two characters who break away from the YA stereotype.
Prince Jones has a great setup. At only seventeen, he’s already got a daily radio segment as DJ LoveJones, Detroit’s youngest and most popular advice-giving DJ. He’s got a solid group of supportive friends. And even though he’s nursing a broken heart after getting dumped by his college-bound girlfriend, he does okay in the romance department.
But Prince shoulders a lot of responsibilities at home. His single mother has Multiple Sclerosis, and his younger brother, Mook, is a handful, but you won’t hear him complaining about the extra work and sacrifices involved in taking care of the family he loves. Prince has accepted that his situation means abandoning his dreams of attending college after graduation. One dream he doesn’t have to give up? Pursuing his crush-since-middle-school, Danielle Ford.
Dani Ford wants to be a writer. She’s got a plan to attend New York University where she’ll study the greats and become the next Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, or Alice Walker. The problem is, she can’t manage to nail her college application essay. When she sits down to write about a life-defining event, the one event she most wants to forget is the one that keeps bubbling to the surface.
Not only is Dani preoccupied with getting into college, she’s not looking for any kind of relationship. Unlike her romance-movie-obsessed mother, Dani’s not sure she even believes in romantic love. In her experience, guys are only about one thing.
“Meanwhile, most of the guys I know are way too shallow and self-absorbed. They send messages telling their new pursuits how sexy they are. Dudes hit you up depending on how valuable you are online; how many likes and comments you get from your most recent selfie. But the worst of it is, guys don’t show respect.”
When Prince and Dani experience the exact opposite of a meet-cute at the Detroit Public Library, Prince figures his hopes of dating Dani are over. But she surprises him by not only apologizing for her part in their disastrous first meeting but agreeing to hang out with him. Three dates, he asks for, to get her to fall in love with him. She doesn’t believe him, but she hopes the distraction will ignite her creative juices and get her out of her current writer’s block.
Over the next few months, Prince’s ability to see Dani for who she is and to appreciate what makes her so special proves far more appealing than any celebrity he has attained as DJ LoveJones. His confidence in Dani helps restore her confidence in herself, and she begins to come out from behind the walls she’s constructed. But even with Prince’s support, Dani isn’t sure she has the capacity to be in love with anyone, and she knows it isn’t fair to lead Prince on when she can’t offer him anything more than friendship.
What I loved most about Love Radio is that it depicts a positive, healthy relationship between two young people who truly like each other for who they are. There is not even the slightest hint of insta-love or attraction based purely on the physical. Indeed, the physical is rarely mentioned. Rather, Dani and Prince get to know each other over time, and that learning only makes them like each other more. They appreciate the passions that they each have, Dani for writing and Prince for music. And what makes their relationship work is that they encourage and support those passions. They genuinely want the other person to be happy.
I’m in love with Prince. He’s respectful and charming. He adores his little brother and is never resentful of having to care for a disabled mother. He’s loyal to his friends and does give some pretty great relationship advice. Best of all, he genuinely sees Dani. He learns what is important to her and uses that information to craft the perfect dates. Not because he’s hoping to manipulate her or to get something from her, but because he understands what she needs and what makes her happy. And when Dani has her moment of crisis, Prince accepts that it isn’t about him but rather Dani needing to heal before she can offer him more. He’s hurt, but he respects her decision without bitterness.
Dani proved equally astute in encouraging Prince’s dreams and passions. She plans their third date with the goal of helping Prince realize that his love of music can lead to a great future. And while I found Dani’s reluctance to accept Prince’s love a little hard to understand and somewhat frustrating at times, I did see how her past experiences would make her scared to open herself up. A good portion of the story involves Dani coming to terms with what happened to her and her realization that the support of those who love her will help her move forward.
The sense of family in Love Radio is so positive. Dani is very close to both of her parents, and unlike so many YA novels, they are a constant presence in her life and in the story. Prince is devoted to his mother, brother and uncle. Friendships also play a huge role. For Dani, reconnecting with her best friends is a critical step in her healing journey – and I loved every scene with Prince, Malik, Yaz and Ant because their conversations are hilarious!
Speaking of Malik… my one nitpick is that a subplot involving Prince’s friend Malik and his indecision regarding two girls, Rashida and Charte, never gets resolved. Is that, perhaps, Book Two?
LaDelle has succeeded in her goal of writing a love letter to Detroit. Instead of simply a place to set a story, the city and its culturally significant locations are used to further the relationship between Prince and Dani. I’ve never been to Detroit, but I’m ready to check out Dutch Girl Donuts and the Motown Museum.
In the end, this is a fantastic first book by Ebony LaDelle, and I look forward to reading more from her soon. I can happily recommend Love Radio as a wonderful YA love story.